My niece, Danielle, and I were on the hunt for the most awesome of snacks, the Pixie Tangerine. They only grow in Ojai. The region produces just enough to keep the best local stores and farmer’s markets supplied and then, BUMMER, gone ‘til next season (March through summer). If Larry and I hadn’t attended a Slow Food event in Ojai a few years ago and tasted a Pixie right off the tree, this road trip would not have happened. Friend’s Ranch in Ojai became our destination this day.
When Danielle and I first entered the packing house for Friend’s Ranch, Baby Celeste caught our eye. She was parked quietly in a tangerine box inches from mom, Emily, who was prepping her family’s prized fruit for Priority Mail. The word is out; their mail order is booming.
You see, Ojai Pixie Tangerines are kinda perfect. Always seedless, easy to peel, very sweet, low-acid so you can eat a bunch of them, and you will. Their size and appearance can vary – sometimes pale, sometimes lumpy. But according to Emily, they are ALL GREAT on the inside. Since the Pixie first came on the scene, the tight-knit Ojai citrus community rallied, and more groves were planted to produce more of this wonderful treat.
Friend’s Ranch (that is a family name, BTW) grows plenty of other types of citrus throughout the year, each with their own benefits (snacking, juicing, cooking, large or small, seeds or seedless, peeling). Depending on season, you will find several when you see Friend’s brand: Satsuma Mandarins, Kishu Mandarins, Lee Tangerines, Clementine Mandarins, Dancy Tangerines, Page Mandarins, W. Murcutt mandarins (great in-season COOKING one, which I will start cooking promptly), Tahoe Gold Tangerine, Shasta Gold Tangerines, Yosemite Gold Tangerines, Gold Nuggets, Minneola Tangelos. Even more.
–> Speaking of brands, this is where I tell you to not confuse Pixies with Cuties. You see stacks of Cuties all over right now; that is a brand. That little net bag can contain any one of a number of tangerine varieties (look on the box), from several farms. “Good enough” if that is all you can find, but not the very best. In my humble tangerine opinion, Pixie = very best. Here are three options to get you some:
- Ojai Road Trip: Friend’s Ranch has Orchard Tours! Upcoming dates are: March 6, March 20, April 10, April 24. Visit their website for location, directions, times and to sign up. Ojai is inland from Ventura.
- Farmers Markets (but just these four): Ojai — behind The Arcade on Matilija Street, Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Santa Barbara — downtown, corner of Cota and Santa Barbara streets, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30.; Santa Monica — Arizona and 2nd Streets, Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Hollywood — Ivar Street between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, Sundays, 8:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Mail Order: apologies to readers who don’t live close enough to avail yourselves of the first two options. Local stores also carry them, no guarantees to FIND them. So, the MAIL ORDER OPTION is what I’d try if I were in Des Moines. Seriously.
How to remember PIXIE? My hair. Five daughters, our dad took us to his barber, Maurice, for the 50s sensation, the pixie haircut. Questionable as to whether it made us “cuties,” but the cut was a “pixie.”